Elisa Steele on Trusting Your Instincts

How have your parents influenced you?

My dad has been a huge influence. He’s very focused on what’s important, and prioritizes incredibly well. You have to know what’s important to you, and make decisions against those things. You have to stay focused on your vision.

My mom is the most caring person I’ve ever met. She really cares about other points of view, what it means to have a relationship, and how you commit to each other.

When you went to college, did you have an idea of what you wanted to do for a career?

I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to run a hotel. I grew out of that really quickly and decided I wanted to go into sales.

My first job was as an associate account executive. I was assigned to a more senior person, and got bored quickly because my job was really just to follow her around.

About a month into a job, I realized that all of the account executives had their key accounts and their dog accounts. And they didn’t spend any time with their dog accounts, because they focused on the ones that were growing.

So I went to the sales manager and said: “Why don’t you give everybody’s dog accounts to me, and I’ll go see if I can do something with them. They don’t want to spend time with them, and I’m bored.” He agreed to the idea, and suddenly I was sitting there at my little cube, and I had 20 dog accounts.

I met with each one of them, and most of them said: “We haven’t heard from you guys in a long time. Good to see you.” I turned some of those accounts into revenue-producing accounts.

What about early management lessons?

A big moment came when I was promoted to a general manager role. I was in my late 20s, and I had responsibility for everything in the unit — sales, technical support, customer service, H.R., marketing.

It was a high-pressure situation, because the unit was really underperforming. I walked into my first management staff meeting, and there were nine white men over the age of 40, and they were all looking at me like, “Really?”

What did you do?

I walked in, and literally did not know what I was going to say. I sat down, looked at the team and said, “We’re going to get to work.”

Whatever they thought of me, they had been there, and the results weren’t good, so they were going to have to give me a chance. We figured out who was good at what and started making progress.

Other lessons?

Early on, I questioned my instincts. I wanted to follow the…

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